Philip Roth, Celebrated American Author, Dead at 85

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Philip Roth in a 1973 publicity photo

One of the most celebrated American novelists, Philip Roth, has died. The author of such best-selling titles as Goodbye, Columbus, Portnoy’s Complaint and American Pastoral passed away Tuesday (May 22) at a hospital in New York City of congestive heart failure. He was 85.

Roth’s numerous awards and honors included the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the National Medal of the Arts and others.

Among Roth’s fans was Bruce Springsteen, who remarked about the author’s later works, “To be in his 60s making work that is so strong, so full of revelations about love and emotional pain, that’s the way to live your artistic life. Sustain, sustain, sustain.”

Born in Newark, N.J., on March 19, 1933, Roth published Goodbye, Columbus, his first book, in 1959. The novel won the National Book Award the following year and was adapted as a film in 1969. That film provided actress Ali MacGraw with her breakout role, for which she won the Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer. (The film included three songs by the Association, among them the title track, which reached #80 on the Billboard chart.)

Related: What were the top radio hits of 1969?

The same year that that film was released, Roth published Portnoy’s Complaint, arguably his most controversial work for its graphic depictions of sexual acts. Time magazine has named the book as one of the 100 best English-language novels.

Ali MacGraw in a still from Goodbye, Columbus

Many of Roth’s writings included autobiographical elements, focusing on Jewish life in the United States in the mid-’20th century. In the late 1970s, Roth created an alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman, writing several fiction works in the guise of that character, beginning with 1979’s The Ghost Writer. Among his most popular later works, 1995’s Sabbath’s Theater won Roth his second National Book Award for Fiction and 1997’s American Pastoral earned the author the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. (Four other books were finalists for the National Book Award. He also won two National Book Circle Awards, three PEN/Faulkner Awards and, in 2002, was awarded the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

Among Roth’s other acclaimed novels were The Human Stain, The Plot Against America and I Married a Communist.

In addition to Goodbye, Columbus, seven of Roth’s other novels and short stories have been adapted as films.

In 2011, Roth was awarded the National Humanities Medal by U.S. President Barack Obama. For decades until his death, he lived on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, anonymously frequenting the local restaurants, post office, park benches and shops with his fellow New Yorkers.

Watch a film trailer for Goodbye, Columbus.

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